September 06, 2006

Is Your Library Remarkable?

In his book, The Purple Cow, Seth Godin asserts that the traditional marketing approach where companies market new products to the masses no longer works.
You are a post-consumption consumer,
You have everything you need,
and most everything you want.
Except time.

cowThink of launching the first brand of dish soap or hair shampoo. Now think of launching the 52nd brand of dish soap or shampoo? The rules of the game have changed. You need to market to the "sneezers" - the group that adopts new products and spreads the news. Make big changes and stand out. Try to follow the leader and you'll be lost in the crowd.

The old rule was this:


The new rules is:


Does your library stand out? Do you have a purple cow(s)?

On a recent trip to Vancouver, everyone I met was eager to tell me about how remarkable their library was. Some focused on the architecture. Some told me about their wonderful fiction collection. Others told me stories about how the library is doing outreach to socially excluded groups. Once a week they give away books on a downtown street corner to ANYONE - if you live on the street, find libraries intimidating, can't pay your fines, don't have a card or identification to get one such as a "fixed address", or if you are using drugs (the local library/reading room in this neighborhood has a rule that you can't come into the library if you're using). No matter who you are or what your status, you can get a book to read. Champions of green spaces in urban centres were quick to point out the rooftop garden that is planted with ornamental grasses and kinnickinnick in a pattern that replicates the flow of the Fraser River.

Library Square

It's not just big libraries that can stand out. In a small community, having public access computers probably was a purple cow at first.

One of the challenges is that the purple cow effect usually doesn't endure for a long time. If everyday on your way to work you drive by a field of purple cows, pretty soon they seem like ordinary cows even though they were pretty darn remarkable the half dozen times.

What holds some libraries and library staff from creating more a purple cow? For going for a "wow" effect?

Fear is the problem. If you're remarkable, you're no longer safe. Some of the people that notice you will be critical. Going for the "wow" means taking risks - you need to explore the limits. What if you stopped fines? What if you gave away bottled water and campus maps for freshman orientation day? Remarkable can be about small things -- the way you answer the phone or photos of local community leaders on your "I can read" posters aka Lansing Public Library.

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